While we all are appreciating and embracing disruptive technologies and innovations, it is still unclear whether we are able to convert our mindset into this repeatable process. In today’s highly turbulent times characterized by technological disruptive market, effective leadership is more about the best principles than the best practices, requiring the leaders to adopt a disruptive management approach. This article talks about the technological disruptive market and the need and ways for effectively managing and leading disruptive markets as well as workplaces.

Technological Disruptive Market Demands Disruptive Leadership

Disruptive innovation or technology is no longer an occasional exception, but a rule. The computing, entertainment, book publishing, wireless phone, manufacturing, healthcare and photography industries, have all been experiencing a dramatic transformation because of new, rising technologies, distribution channels, business models, market expectations and government regulations. Take into consideration the end of different industries like Kodak, Blackberry, Borders and Blockbuster. These businesses couldn’t not lead the innovative opportunities and disruptions to go forward to invent next big things[1].

Today’s technological disruptive, turbulent market is termed as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”[2], Digital Darwinism[3]” and “Era of Technological Darwinism[4]”. All these show the same reality, and that is, technology is redefining all the rules. Showing a novel picture of this Fourth Industrial Revolution, the World Economic Forum, states that:

“In scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

Being a leader, if you are not leading disruption proactively, you will eventually be compelled to respond to it. A lot of executives; however, are not prepared fully for the fortitude needed to proactively lead technological disruptive markets or prolonged uncertainty. Moreover, majority of the businesses focus on rewarding the control and predictability; the exact opposite of what marks the eras of disruption. For business to survive and grow, their management or leaders must adept at assuming new roles, creating new identities and identifying the new meaning not only for themselves but also for those they lead[5].

Redefining the Roles

Indeed, the first big need for the leaders is to disrupt their own roles. Businesses of the future might look very different than most of the businesses look today. For instance, Haier, the China-based home appliances and consumer electronics giant, changed its 80,000-strong human force so it could better track changing market trends and act faster. The company re-organized itself into around 2,000 autonomous units, each having its own P&L. The employees were paid as per their performance[6].

Zhang Ruimin, the CEO at Haier, states that his own role also underwent a change. Rather than sitting on the top of the hierarchy, he started managing various inter-dependent business divisions to respond to changing market forces. Maybe, rather than CEO, his position title could be Chief Ecosystem Officer. Other senior management also took new roles as well as responsibilities to stabilize the business, while simultaneously, to make it more agile.

Disrupting Identities

The next big thing to lead effectively the technological disruptive market is the need to disrupt leader’s identity. While conventional identities like “the performance-driven, “the visionary” etc. will remain at their place, leaders are required to selectively consider and adopt new identities for themselves. These include:

· Being a Consumer

Consumer experience helps developing novel and better ideas. Pete Blackshaw, the Global Head of Innovation and Digital Services at Nestle, developed videos in 2017 using different consumer tools such as Snap glasses and iMovie, which provided him firsthand valuable insights into the ways consumers experience the digital tools.

· Being a Catalyst

Continuous iterations in the innovation process drives organizational transformation in market presence and organizational strategy.

Thomas Sagar, DuPont’s General Legal Counsel, developed a radically novel model for his legal function that could save the company millions of dollars while adding huge strategic value back the company[7]. He consolidated the company’s external legal service providers, cutting the number from 350 firms to 37, training all these to work collaboratively, share knowledge and attain efficiencies. Most importantly, he redefined the legal function business model. Instead of paying external firms’ fees based on billable hours, which pushed the firms to take every claim and withdraw the cases, the firms are now rewarded to resolve the cases as fast and efficiently as possible; something quite revolutionary for the legal function of the company.

· Being an Insane Scientist

Experimenting in a controlled but creative way and assuming calculated risks helps leaders explore new possibilities that help them understand the turbulent market their company is working within and the ways to succeed within changing parameters.

Apple’s Steve Jobs never executed any market research before developing the iPhone, iPod and iPad. Rather, Steve and his team defined the products and its user-experience they wanted themselves[8]. Inquiring the market for its wants would have been useless since consumers were not even aware of what was being missed until they were offered with this by Apple. Leading through the disruption is based on identifying what one values and where the company wants to create a difference- both in what it does and how it does. Disruptive leadership comes from the leaders and business who are insanely experimenting and innovating themselves because they themselves want to create a difference for others.

Going Ahead

An increasing number of companies and leaders are recognizing the need to proactively disrupt their leadership to better address today’s technological disruptive markets. The traditional leadership model, where big visions are followed by detailed planning and action plans, need to be replaced with more agile, disruptive leadership. Leading the disruptive innovations require adoption of principles that go beyond the traditional training of the leaders and managers. To lead technological disruptive market, new leadership styles and competencies are needed. It means exploring one’s deeper motivations for driving meaningful opportunities, going out of the existing boundaries, taking steps to know the unknown and uncover new disruptions and insights. Lastly, leading the technological disruptive markets and innovation effectively requires that leaders disrupt the most fundamental behaviors and mindsets that have led them to their current success.

[1] https://hbr.org/2017/01/what-so-many-strategists-get-wrong-about-digital-disruption

[2] https://info.thoughtworks.com/fourth-industrial-revolution-lp.html

[3] http://www.briansolis.com/2016/07/linkedin-race-digital-darwinism-six-stages-digital-transformation/

[4] https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/high-tech/our-insights/brand-success-in-an-era-of-digital-darwinism

[5] Kaplan, S. (2012), Leapfrogging: Harness the Power of Surprise for Business Breakthroughs, Berrett-Koehler, San Francisco.

[6] Hamel, Gary & Breen, Bill (2007). The Future of Management, Harvard Business School Press.

[7] Collins, J. and Hansen, M. (2011), Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck — Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, HarperCollins Publishers, New York.


Article was originally posted by the Author on Medium on June 3, 2019

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.